Community Example

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Timothy 1:12-17.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?”

An innocent, calm question, until it is asked by a sheriff deputy.

“My wife’s the pastor!” Andrew said. “Hi, my name is Sarah. What brings you by this evening?”

“I am on patrol and I saw you turn into the church driveway. I thought I would give you a couple of minutes, in case you were in the sheds, and then I would come and find you in the act.”

“Oh, well we were just picking up mail from the office and disposing of some smelly trash from the parsonage. I appreciate you coming to check on us. And I appreciate you looking out for the security of our church.”

Lessons learned:

  1. We are blessed with great first responders and law enforcement in Seminole County.
  2. Maybe I shouldn’t pick up mail from the office at 10:24pm.

“Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” If this question were asked of Paul in his first letter to Timothy, I believe Paul would say with joy that the “foremost” of sinners had been shown mercy and therefore he will show and share mercy in all times, in all circumstances, with all people (1:15). Though Paul was raised in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” climate, Christ’s mercy molded him into a person that “turned the other cheek” (Mt 5:38-39). Through the example of Paul we learn that if Christ could and did shepherd Paul through such an incredible transformation, then Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in our community.

Christ can and will shepherd incredible transformation in us.

When I consider “what seems to be going on” at Tuskawilla, I am so pleased by the balance of our ministry and witness. We understand and continue growing in our understanding that as we do for our church family, so we are called to do for our surrounding community. And what we do for our surrounding community we do in the spirit as if we are serving our church family. This sort of behavior and understanding of needful, equivalent behavior is not always common in churches. Some congregations “like who we like” and others…oh well. Not so at Tuskawilla. Not so with this church family. I truly believe we act the way we do in response to our having experienced Christ’s mercy as individuals and as a congregation. As we have received, so we are led to give, which is in keeping with the teaching of Christ, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:38c).

If you were caught in the act of being a Christ follower, if someone happened upon you engaging in Kingdom work and asked “Hi, folks…what seems to be going on?” what would you be found doing? How would you respond to the question? And what story would your response witness about your life in God’s Kingdom?

Prayer: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise. To all, life thou livest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all; we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, and wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.”* Amen.

*”Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 103.

 

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FAMILY ~ All Means All

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Galatians 3:23-29.

She arrived on a wind from the East. Michael thought she was a witch. Jane knew better; witches fly on brooms, not with umbrellas.

Why is she here? Because the Banks’ children excel at nanny resignations. Their most recent conquest? Nanny resignation by following a kite.

The kite in Mary Poppins becomes a very powerful symbol. To Mr. Banks, father to Jane and Michael, the kite is a symbol of childishness and a need to grow up. To Michael, the kite is a symbol of playfulness and freedom, which are two qualities that are hard to come by in the Banks’ home. Within the walls of Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane children are not meant to be children, but little adults.

One day Mary Poppins announces the children will join their father on an outing to the bank where he works. The children nearly collapse of amazement because their father never takes them anywhere. When the children return to reality, sensitivity to their impending boredom arrives. Mary Poppins, in her wisdom, sweetens the deal, “Children, you could take a tuppence to feed the birds.”

Bird feeding is not on Mr. Banks’ agenda. Bird feeding is childish and wasteful spending of money. Guided by his father, and encouraged by his father’s coworkers, Michael hears, “Come, young man, grow up and be responsible. Invest your tuppence in the bank.” Nearly convinced to invest, Mr. Dawes, Sr. – the bank owner – abruptly takes the money from Michael’s hand, which angers Michael greatly. Michael’s determination to retrieve his money turns the bank into a zoo.

Mr. Banks’ job is now in jeopardy because of the tuppence fiasco. Heart and mind heavy with burden, Mr. Banks receives care from an unexpected place. Michael gives the fiasco-causing tuppence to his father as a sign of faith that it will help fix the situation at the bank, as a sign of belief in his father. Michael gives to his father – simply, beautifully – in a child-like way to help heal an adult-sized problem. This gift brings into focus the true adult-sized problem in Mr. Banks’ life – his desire to forcibly mature his children rather than support them and grow with them through relationship.

Mr. Banks puts down the tuppence and goes in search of Michael’s kite; he mends it so the family can fly it. The Banks’ growing and maturing in mutually beneficial ways – growing and maturing together – was of most importance. And they returned to this essential work by flying a kite.

//

When I read this passage from Paul, particularly the opening verses, I am struck by the image of growing in faith together. There are definitely lessons that are passed down from older generations to newer generations. There are definitely lessons that are passed up from newer generations to older generations. And there are definitely lessons that we all learn together.

In Christ we are all children of God. In faith we grow together…not so much into “adults” of God…but more so into “maturing” children of God. This maturing continues throughout our lives. It is not a forced maturation like what Mr. Banks wanted originally for his children. If our maturation in faith was forced, then we might rush through or all together disregard a lesson or time in our lives where we and our faith need time to explore and develop.

I worry when I encounter circumstances that pit mature faith against a child-like faith or picture a mature faith as superior to child-like faith. I believe we need both qualities present in our faith. As we mature in our relationship with Christ, as we mature in years, as we mature in our abilities to reason and research, we mature in our ability to argue, to defend, to question, and to prove. At times this ability to reason and research is helpful…and at other times all it does is make the waters more muddy. It is in these moments that our child-like faith serves us well to simply believe, rest, be at peace.

Simply be.

In Christ we are all children of God together. While each of us are at different places in our relationship with Christ, collectively we are all in relationship with Christ together. This is one of God’s mysteries – we are all in different places, but somehow all in the same place through community. This is a gift to us – to be with Christ as we are with one another – to learn, to play, to be challenged, to be supported, to mature in faith by growing in responsibility, and to mature in faith by flying a great number of kites.

Friends, let’s commit to doing this work – as God’s children – all of us.

Together.

Prayer: “One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord. Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more. Many the gifts, many the works, one in the Lord of all. Grain for the fields, scattered and grown, gathered to one, for all. One bread, one body, one Lord of all, one cup of blessing which we bless. And we, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”* Amen.

*”One Bread, One Body,” The United Methodist Hymnal 620.

Upbuilding: Destined For Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 5:1-11

Ever have those days where you just cannot wake up?  Either where you hit snooze on the alarm clock again and again and again or where you do get up and you do not really feel like you are fully functioning?  It has been overcast in my neck of the woods the past few days. Overcast and dreary with a few light showers. I am thankful for the rain – we risk brushfires without it – but I miss the sunshine. I need it to wake up!  Also, I am not fully adjusted to this time change…it is dark so early that my body is ready for sleep as soon as the sun sets…makes the equation of Sarah + evening meetings all the more entertaining!

What do we do when we need to wake up again through out the day?  We find a pick me up. A cup of coffee. A soda. A snack. I do my best to fit in time on my yoga mat. It seems that the most productive time of my day immediately follows my practice. My head is clear. My brain is focused. My movements are swift, discerned, and efficient. I am so thankful to have that time and thankful to serve in a vocation that recognizes the importance of health of body, mind, and spirit.

Additionally – transitioning in and out some of the poses – that will really wake you up!  Ha!  (If you’re curious, complete an Internet search on scorpion yoga pose.)

In our Scripture passage for this week Paul rouses the Thessalonians to awaken from their slumbers. They are not sleeping the days away; rather, Paul is guarding them from lulling into the slumber of sin. He makes clear that it is God who does the waking, and in waking us sets us on the path of salvation. John Wesley says that God stirs the hearts of individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit. That stirring leads us to take a good long look in the mirror. We look. We are convicted of our sins – both of commission and omission – and God’s grace leads us to and through the moment of repentance. God’s grace redeems us. We are made new.

And then what?  Are we awake permanently?  No longer susceptible to sin? I wish…or maybe I don’t. God’s grace wakes us up and then God’s grace holds us accountable to our behavior throughout our lives.  God reawakens us when our behavior is not becoming of the gospel. God reawakens us when God is ready to lead us in new directions. God reawakens us so we can learn the lessons of the past in order to sculpt a better future. I want this sort of accountability. I want this sort of relationship with God. And by God’s grace I have it.

Each yoga class ends with the closing pose of savasana or corpse pose. This is a pose where the yogi lies flat on his or her mat with limbs comfortably outstretched leaving space between the legs and between the arms and the torso. In savasana breathing is no longer calculated. Every tension in the body is released. The mind is calmed and the yogi begins to drift in that presence. Corpse pose represents the death of the practice. The practice is over. It is past. All the accomplishments. All the failures. All the focus. All the confusion. Done. The yogi lays in the stillness until the instructor guides the yogi into fetal pose, which represents the birth and beginning of something new. A reawakening. The body and mind are rested while they both bear the lasting impact of the practice. Eventually the yogi returns to seated position with hands drawn to prayer at heart center. Gratitude is expressed for all that has been because it shapes who the yogi is and hope is named for who the yogi will become.

Awake I am ready to explore, feel, savor, and welcome. Awake I am ready to create, to employ the gifts God gives to me and to creation to serve my neighbor. Awake I see the best evidences of God’s grace and forgiveness in the faces of my neighbors.

I won’t be hitting the snooze button on any of that.

Church, it is time wake up!

Prayer: “Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up all you sleepers. Stand up, stand up, stand up all you dreamers. Hands up, hands up, hands up all believers. Take up your cross, carry it on. All that you reveal, with light in us, will come to life and start breathing. Here we stand our hearts are yours, Lord. Not our will, but yours be done, Lord.”* Amen.

*”Wake Up,” All Sons and Daughters, 2012. Enjoy the video here.

The Gospel According to Showtunes: Raise You Up

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Acts 1:1-11

The Ascension of Jesus assures that those who come from God, return to God.  Jesus – God’s only begotten Son – came from God as an infant – holy and lowly – and now as resurrected Christ ascends into heaven.  Those who believe in the resurrected and ascended Lord are also on this path.  We, who claim faith in Christ, are new creations; our birth is no longer natural or earthly but from on high with God.  Our faith in Christ has grafts us into the Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity towards those who have fallen, but God’s kindness towards you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Romans 11:19-23).  The “broken branches” refer to the people of Israel that did not receive the good news of Jesus Christ and the “grafted branches” refer to the Gentiles that did receive the good news.  Paul guards his listeners (and readers) against pride.  It is because of Christ that we are on the path we are on; therefore, do not be boastful.  We have been set on a particular way – from God to return to God – and how we live and serve in the in-between-time becomes our focus.  We are challenged to keep God at our center so that in God we will “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Jesus sends the disciples to Jerusalem; there they are to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is another step in their in-between time from God to God, but the disciples get ahead of themselves.  They don’t want to take a step; they want to take a flying leap forward!  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6)?  I can imagine Jesus dropping his chin to his chest and chuckling after hearing this question.  Acts records Jesus response as, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).  My paraphrase of Jesus’ response would go something like this…”Oh you disciples, you still don’t get it.  You are looking for things way in the future when I have asked you to be present in this moment.  We are here for you to receive the Spirit and then you will join me in restoring the Kingdom to the ends of the earth.  Keep focused.  One step at a time.”  Before the disciples can ask any follow-up questions, Jesus ascends.  They stand in awe with their gaze toward heaven.

And eventually…their gaze shifts from the heavens back to earth, back to the mission field, back to the Kingdom that is reigning in some areas and still needing to in-break into others.  God equips the disciples with the Holy Spirit so they are prepared to attend to the work before them.  The disciples are now responsible to carry on Jesus’ revolutionary work and they will do so with the Holy Spirit as their companion.

We, as modern day disciples, also find ourselves on the path “from God to return to God.”  Sure, we can take time to marvel at the heavens and be thankful for the final destination of our path, but we have work to do in the in-between time.  We, like Jesus’ disciples, have to uncrane our necks from the heavens and get dirt back under our fingernails.  Jesus is not going to do the work for us and we cannot stand idle until he returns in glory.  There is work to be done.  We are equipped by God’s Spirit to do it.  And we will do it – one step at a time.

Prayer: “I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, I can hear my Savior calling, ‘Take thy cross and follow, follow me.’  He will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, he will give me grace and glory, and go with me, with me, all the way.  Where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow, where he leads me I will follow; I’ll go with him, with him, all the way.”* Amen.

*”Where He Leads Me,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 338.

 

New Creation: Servants of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 6:1-13

This Sunday I have the privilege to be joined in worship leadership by one of my dearest friends, The Rev. Dan Dixon.  Dan is the pastor serving Mt. Gilead UMC in Sharpsburg, GA.  Brenda – Dan’s beautiful wife – will also be a guest at Reeves UMC on Sunday.  I am so excited that they will be in town and that we will get to spend some much needed time together.  They make my heart so happy!!

Throughout this week’s Scripture passage Paul uses the first person plural pronoun we – As we work together with him; we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain; we are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way.  But who is this we?  

Remember – although Paul is the writer – or attributed writer – of most of the New Testament passages, he was not working alone.  He had associates.  He had partners in ministry – together he and they were the helpmates of Christ in the Kingdom.  His partners were men, women, Jews that became Christian, Gentiles that became Christian, folks that had similar walks and upbringing as him, and folks whose walks were as unknown to Paul’s as Adam’s house cat.

They worked near one another – as near as one another’s breath – and then they also worked with great distances between them.  Whatever the circumstance, they served with joy.  They embraced their commission as servants of God and servants in the Kingdom as Paul says, “through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, and hunger (II Cor 6:4b-5).  Whatever came their way they knew they had one another and they knew they had Christ.

As we continue serving in the Kingdom today I believe that we continue the legacy and live into the example of Paul and his friends, of Christ and the disciples.  A life of ministry can be very isolating – in a vocation where you are surrounded by people, pastors can feel so alone.  It is in these days that I am most thankful for my colleagues in ministry – both near and far – that I can call on for support.  Dan is one of those colleagues.  We met the first day of seminary – two nervous students that found themselves in an Old Testament Lecture wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into – but no matter what we got into – then and now – we have each other.  We have Christ.  We have incredibly supportive spouses and partners in ministry in Brenda and Andrew.  We have mutual friends – like The Sara(h)s.  We have friends known only to one of us and not the other and then we have friends that were only known to one of us that have become mutual.  All of these friends, colleagues, beloved ones – they constitute my we – our we.  And it is beautiful.

One of my favorite affirmations of faith is The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada.*  It affirms, “We are not alone; we live in God’s world; we believe in God; we trust in God; we are called to be the church; we are not alone.”

That first person plural pronoun – it is intentional.

We are the servants of God.  We are in this together.  And it is beautiful.

Prayer:  “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing; he chastens and hastens his will to make known.  The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.  Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.  Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, ordaining, maintaining, his kingdom divine; so from the beginning the fight we are winning; thou, Lord, wast at our side, all glory be thine.  We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant, and pray that thou still our defender wilt be.  Let thy congregation escape tribulation; thy name be every praised!  O Lord, make us free!”**  Amen.

*”The Statement of Faith of The United Church of Canada,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 883.

**”We Gather Together,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 131.

New Creation: Removing The Veil

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:7-18

On December 23, 2013 Andrew and I celebrated 7 years of marriage.  Our wedding day was incredible…and quite damp as I remember it.  Surrounded by family and friends…over 400 family and friends…we worshipped and we married.  Truly, it was and remains one of the happiest days of my life.

On our wedding day I wore a veil as most brides do.  My veil did not come from a store.  Andrew’s Aunt Vivian made my custom veil.  It was six head-to-knee length layers of tulle and bead and crystal detailing.  It had six combs to attach it to my head…which may in fact speak to the size of my head BUT ALSO the weight of this veil.  Oh my…it was heavy.  But it was worth it.  Everyone complimented me on it…including the guys in the local burger drive-thru I visited on my way to the church…and the kind customers at the supermarket that allowed me to go ahead of them in the checkout line to purchase hairspray that would replace all my friend’s hairspray that my locks consumed.

I had a lot going on that day.

My veil was just a veil.  There was no blusher in the front – it was all veil down my back.  Aunt Vivian asked me if I wanted a blusher and I declined.  I never really liked the idea of a blusher – a piece of fabric that would obscure a part of me from Andrew until some predetermined moment.  No.  He would see me and all of me.  We were entering into a solemn covenant together.  I could see without obscurity who I was committing to and I wanted Andrew to have the same opportunity.

Bonus for each of us – we liked what we saw.

Greater bonus for each of us – we still do.

In our Scripture passage for this week Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians and urges them to remove the veils in their lives that obscure them from wholly and completely being in the presence of Christ.  Veils have a dual function – they obscure vision as I have already mentioned but they are also a barrier.  They cause separation.  Why would we desire such a separation from our Savior who invites us into solemn covenant as well – the covenant of eternal life?

I think sometimes we want to separate ourselves from Christ.  We want to hoist up that veil because we don’t want Christ to see us for who we really are – flawed, self-absorbed, ashamed, broken.  If we remove the veil and step into the light of Christ’s glory we will be exposed.  We will be truly known.

I believe that God knows who we truly are without stepping into the light of Christ’s glory.  But I also believe that God wants us – each individual – each daughter or son of the Most High – to be the one to share who we are with God.  It’s okay if it takes time for us to share all of who we are with God.  God has the time.  God is not going to rip down our veils like a band-aid off chapped skin – in one fell swoop.  God will remove the veil, but it will be in good measure and response to where we are.  As faith grows and doubt recedes the veil will fall.  When that happens we will be in the place that Paul describes in his first correspondence with the Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

I was so happy to remove my veil at the end of my wedding day.  Andrew had to help; it was anchored to my head by six dozen bobbypins.  I felt relief.  I literally felt a weight lifted.  I had freedom to move my head and walk where I wanted without having to be mindful of the veil being caught on someone or something.

A greater freedom is our gift when we remove the veils that separate us and obscure us from our God.

Let the veils fall down.

Prayer: “Finish, then thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.  Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee; changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.”* Amen.

*”Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 384.

New Creation: Letters of Recommendation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 3:1-6

A constant question that the church faces is the question of marketing – how do we get our name out there?  How do we get our name out there so people will come be with us here?

To answer that how question I would say – Go Out There!  Have a Little Mermaid Moment and “be where the people are!”

But what seems to be the case?  Churches appear reluctant to go out there…they would rather invest in the latest and greatest marketing technique to get people to come here.

Websites – Social Media – Live Streaming – 24hr Prayer Lines – Brochures – HUGE Electronic Signs and Billboards – 15 page full color 11”x17” inch weekly bulletins – TV advertisements – and more!

One of the most frustrating points in all of this…once you invest in one technique or update another…it’s all out of date!  Once all your information is current…it’s immediately past tense.

As churches we want people to know who we are.  So we seek, we strive, we struggle to capture who we are on paper, in a text box, and sometimes in under 140 characters.  “Who are you?  Who is this church?” someone asks and what do we do…we direct them away from us.  (and in that “.” please read “!?!?!”)  Visit this website.  Read this brochure.  Sign up for our text message reminders.

Why not just answer their question?  Paul says we are capable of doing that.  Paul says that is our purpose – to be the Christ’s recommendation letter – to be the church’s recommendation letter to the world.  Do you want to get to know the church – whether church as a specific congregation or church as the Body of Christ – get to know me.  All my successes and struggles, all my joys and fears.  I am the church.  Get to know me.

Martha Sterne shares incredibly profound thoughts in her commentary entry on this Scripture passage in Feasting On The Word.  Sterne writes, “What if all of us accepted the responsibility that Jesus gave us in our baptism, which is to be a letter of recommendation to the whole world of the good news of God in Christ?  We would have to stop looking for the next newest and greatest marketing ploy for church growth.  Instead we would know that we are invited to be, not just the marketing program for the church, but the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us.”* (400).

To be the healing and growth of Christ – in us, through us, and among us – we have to get out from behind the social media, the signs, the bulletins.  We have to be where the people are.  We have to take the message of Christ into the places of pain, hurt, and need.  I believe as the church we would be better stewards and collect a greater return on the investment of teaching one another how to share our faith one-on-one rather than updating information to a third-party, non-personal marketing technique.

What’s the common denominator for all of these marketing techniques?  They are all bound to one place – a yard, a piece of paper on a credenza in the church foyer, and yes, even on the web.  People, however, we are everywhere.  We are dynamic.  We are capable of being an outstanding recommendation for Christ to the world.

Let’s go be where the people are.

Prayer: “‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We hear the call, O Lord, that comes from thee, our Father, in thy eternal Word.  Inspire our ways of learning through earnest, fervent prayer, and let our daily living reveal thee everywhere.  ‘Go, make of all disciples.’  We at thy feet would stay until each life’s vocation accents thy holy way.  We cultivate the nature God plants in every heart, revealing in our witness the master teacher’s art.”** Amen.

*David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B Volume 1 – Advent through Transfiguration (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 400.

**”We Are the Church,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 558.